Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Possum of Discernment

This is a prophetic picture. The unfortunate creature is the Possum of Discernment and the nefarious line-painting executioner that prematurely and unceremoniously crushed out its life and dignity would be any revival machine with the words "judge not" painted in big red letters on its side.

The reason why discernment could be pictured as an (o)possum came to me while listening to a very balanced speech last week about how to process Bentley & the BAM-lets (not to be confused with Bennie & the Jets).

During his sermon, the pastor made the following insightful observation:
"Those of you with the gift of discernment have actually felt like you're on the wrong side of the fence.

"I believe that God is calling you to refine things and to speak out, but when there's a wave of excitement going through the room, the last thing you want to do is go: 'Excuse me, I gotta concern about what's going on here.'

"What you (think you) want to do is just sit down, and shut up, and maybe it would be best -- you know -- if you just went to another church because you don't fit in here."
The pastor was doing his best to value and encourage those with discernment gifts to exercise them even when it's not the most popular thing to do. And that's when I thought of the Possum of Discernment.

And why the Possum of Discernment often feels like -- and ends up as -- Revival Roadkill.

The "wave of excitement" often feels more like a thundering tsunami than a slight surge in the surf. And people with genuine gifts of discernment, coupled with some depth of biblical understanding and theology, often just get worn out/worn down by these kind of reactions:
  • You're resisting/quenching the Spirit
  • You have a religious spirit (or its variant: don't be such a Pharisee)
  • Judge not, lest ye be judged (sometimes accompanied by "thus saith the Lord")
  • Unity is where God commands the blessing, but you're sowing division
  • God often offends the mind to reveal the heart (which, being translated, means "Don't you get it? You're still wrong, no matter what.")
  • The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life
  • Have you ever repented of going to Bible college/seminary and getting filled up with man's wisdom? (not quite as common, but I was asked this once in all seriousness)
And under the weight of being routinely and repeatedly marinated in these kind of reactions, many with the gift of discernment withdraw and functionally become Possums of Discernment: they sit down, keep quiet, and hope for the best. Which inevitably leads to becoming the Revival Roadkill pictured above.

A book that was tremendously helpful to me was The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. I've loaned out my copy numerous times, and have no idea who had it last. Highly recommended.

The book includes a chapter on the all-important question: "should I stay or should I go" (cue The Clash). I can't recall the whole check-list that was included in the chapter, but I recall clearly the one line that helped me immensely: "If you came for the first time today knowing what you now know, would you stay? If the answer is a clear NO, why are you staying?"

One thing is for sure: being a Possum of Discernment is to choose passivity, and passive people are the doormat that everyone scrapes their books on. Either decide to stay and ring the four-alarm fire-bell long and loud, or decide that the better part of valor means heeding the advice of Prophet Gump: "Run, Forest! Run!"

Passivity = Possum = Roadkill.

10 comments:

  1. OMG! (oh my [insert non-offensive word that starts with G])
    I just posted on this very 'thing'
    I've been reading said book for a month now trying to work out the mess in my head :)
    It's been very helpful to say the least.
    Thank you Mr.Mac for this post...after reading it, I feel ...A little less crazy :)
    Peace

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  2. I recall a line in Jimmy Longs book... "When the sky is the limit it's easy to neglect foundations."

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  3. Wow ... two things.

    One ... an old friend who has known me a long, long time but who was not around during my go-round with my CLB just stopped in this afternoon by surprise. I told her a little of my tale and she replied to me in the same vein that you have written here ... it's eerie.

    Second, later on I was cleaning my family room and found said book in a stack of books I want to read. I've been meaning to read it for some time and had forgotten it. I guess it's time to move it up.

    Thanks for this post ... discernment and roadkill. Yep ... been there.

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  4. Excellent imagery. You should write a book or something (wink). Seriously, it is helpful. Great post, Rob.

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  5. * You're resisting/quenching the Spirit
    * You have a religious spirit (or its variant: don't be such a Pharisee)
    * Judge not, lest ye be judged (sometimes accompanied by "thus saith the Lord")
    * Unity is where God commands the blessing, but you're sowing division
    * God often offends the mind to reveal the heart (which, being translated, means "Don't you get it? You're still wrong, no matter what.")
    * The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life
    * Have you ever repented of going to Bible college/seminary and getting filled up with man's wisdom? (yes, I've heard this one -- directed at me)

    My husband and I sat with a couple recently that follow the "revivals" and used every line above on us.

    It's very hard to wrestle through with people, especially those that are new to the charismatic practices of the Spirit which I love and never want to lose...I just can't quite wrap myself around all the hype anymore. For those of us that have lived in this world it's another "in between" time I think.
    Thanks for posting on this, it is important for those with discernment to have a say.

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  6. I love what you write about...it is very relevant for a lot of people I know (including myself)
    I live in Canada, and tried to get your book at Chapters, with no luck. How do I get my hands on a copy?

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  7. Great thoughts. The book about subtle spiritual abuse really stood out to me. cool.

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  8. 7cats,

    Any time I can make you feel less crazy, just let me know. :)

    I'm not trying to suggest that all revival cloud-chasers are abusive -- but that the (partial) list in this post CAN be used very manipulatively.

    Len,

    And without getting to the extreme of unthinking foundationalism, it's true that we need to stay grounded even when we set our sails to the wind.

    Sonja,

    Yes, "been there, done that, burned the t-shirt" is an all-too-common story. Read the book -- it isn't written specifically about charismania per se, but has some good principles.

    Jamie,

    I saw this "roadkill" pic several years ago, and always thought it would be an interesting piece for a blog post. :)

    Rose,

    I really like something Grace said recently, "I miss corporate expectancy and openness to whatever the Spirit of God might do." I think the test for a lot of us post-charismatic types is to find a way to do "both/and" -- receive from the Spirit (even in ways that seem odd to some), yet keep discernment sharp and active.

    Michelle,

    I got a phone call just this afternoon from Cook Canada, and they said they've ordered a shipment from the UK, and so both Cook Canada and Amazon.ca should have it in stock very soon.

    They also suggested that if Americans want to order it from Canada, that's probably their best bet because no-one knows what Cook USA is up to. :)

    Brett,

    The subtle book was very helpful to me back in the early 90's when I first found it. I've loaned it out many times, and now need to get a new copy!

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  9. As far as I remember my first experience with a charismatic congregation was initially an interesting one. It was my first year at University and someone drove me way out somewhere to check out this new thing. I don't remember much of it, except at one point the pastor worked the phrase "garden hose!" (with the exclamation point, I'm certain) into a prayer - without any supporting context.
    What I do remember is I went up to him after the service to ask what this was all about (pretty brave for me, you should know).
    His response? "If you don't know, it is not for you."
    Ouch. He seemed a bit defensive, so in fairness perhaps he had recently received a very negative grilling, but I was honestly curious. Never went back there again, and never approached a leader with such boldness since.
    Still, every now and then I think "garden hose!" for no durn reason, and I have to smile. Maybe it was for me after all....

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  10. I love a genuine move of God and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit just as much as the next guy. However, my husband and I found ourselves in a "prophetic" church gone crazy. I would sit back and watch as most everyone there dove head first into the hype, doing all sorts of strange stuff and calling it the Holy Spirit. Week after week, we would go home asking the same question: Father, where were You in all of that? somehow even wondering if we had backslid or "missed God."

    Finally, when it got to the point that it took us nearly a week just to detox from the previous week's church service, we decided it was time to leave this "prophetic" bunch behind. I mean, how do you pray for cleansing of a church where the defilement comes from the head down?

    During our recovery process, we found a teaching series by a pastor we love and respect called, "Recovering From Spiritual Abuse" extremely helpful! (I would be willing to share the contact information if it doesn't go against your blog protocol.)

    Anyway, it is helpful to know that others out there want the genuine move of God, and recognize that pretty much all we've seen thus far is ... hype.

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